WHAT IS INFORMATION LAW?

Information law is now an established feature of the legal landscape.  Modern technology enables information to be collected, used, analysed and disseminated on an unprecedented scale.  Individuals are increasingly concerned about the scope of their right to know, and about the security of their own personal data.  The public and private sector alike recognise that information is a crucial asset, whether for combating crime and terrorism or for meeting customer needs.  At the same time, there is widespread acceptance that the use of information needs to be governed by a robust legal framework.

Legislation such as the Freedom of Information Act 2000 (“FOIA”) and the Environmental Information Regulations 2004 (“EIR”) governs the extent to which citizens can gain access to information held by central Government and other public authorities.  There is a patchwork of other, sector-specific legislation (for instance, in relation to health information or information held by local authorities).   At the same time, modern information law seeks to guard against the misuse of personal, private and confidential information by public authorities, employers, media organisations and others.  The Data Protection Act 1998 (“DPA”), the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 (“RIPA”), article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights, the common law of confidence, and judicial review principles, all have a role to play in this context.

Information law is also becoming an increasing important facet of other specialist areas of legal practice – such as employment law, public law and business law.  Employers may ask how far they can go in monitoring their employees.  Local authorities may ask whether they can share information between their different departments.  Commercial organisations may ask whether the business information that they provide to their public sector clients is at risk of disclosure.

2008 was a particularly exciting year for information law.  The Common Services Agency case reached the House of Lords.  The MPs’ expenses case put freedom of information on the front pages of the newspapers. Meanwhile, the “database state” and the “surveillance society” became established as constant subjects of media and political debate.  2009 shows every sign of being equally exciting:  already, we have seen the first ever use of the Government’s FOIA veto, in the Iraq Cabinet Minutes case.

This blog is intended to help you keep up to date with this fast-moving field of legal practice.  We hope you will find it interesting, informative and thought-provoking.  Feel free to provide any feedback to Claire.Halas@11kbw.com.